Executions · Female Killers · New York

Woman executed for murdering, dismembering, and defrauding her friend

March 29, 1909
Auburn, New York
Mary Farmer is executed in the electric chair after murdering her friend, neighbor, and landlady Sarah Brennan in an elaborate plot to steal her property

Farmer, who suffered from partial facial paralysis, constructed a plan to gain Brennan’s house. She attacked Brennan, killing her with blows from an ax to the back of her head, then dismembered her body and stuffed it in a trunk. Farmer then claimed to be Brennan and signed over the deed to Brennan’s house and rental property to her real identity. After the deed was set in her own name, she moved into the house (taking the trunk holding Brennan’s body with her) and evicted Brennan’s husband, claiming his wife had left and would never return, but had left the house to Farmer before leaving.

When family members became suspicious, authorities investigated the house, eventually focusing on the trunk and a few boxes that had not been unpacked since the Farmers moved in. The sheriff broke the lock on the trunk revealing Brennan’s dismembered, decomposing body. According to the New York Times: “[t]he sickening odor of decaying flesh pervaded the room. A black cloth covered the contents of the trunk, which was little more than two-thirds filled. But when the cloth was pulled back a trifle, the stockinged outlines of a human foot and leg protruded. The cloth was the black skirt of a woman. The body was resting upon the face, the legs bent at the knees and the feet sticking upwards nearly to the top of the trunk. One end of the trunk was smeared with blood and here the horrified officers disclosed the head, blood-clotted, the back crushed in as with a blunt instrument. There was considerable blood in the bottom of the trunk and some of it had oozed through upon the floor in the corner.”

Originally, Farmer tried to implicate her husband in the murder but quickly changed her story confessing she worked alone. She was executed on March 29, 1909 while her husband, James, had his death sentence reversed and was released from prison after serving 53 weeks.

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